Award winning Teacher's Advice on how to change school culture

Written by: Karl Karkainen

“Anyone can step up and lead. Anyone can step back and serve.”

For teachers who are in charge of either creating or developing a student leadership program in their first year as an advisor, it can be an exciting task. But where can a teacher who has the enthusiasm to build their school’s student leadership program get started?

The entire process begins with creating a vision that answers some basic questions:

  • How can all students identify leadership qualities in themselves?
  • Where can students receive opportunities to practice the empathy-building skills learned in leadership class to make their learning authentic?
  • How can students work with school staff to develop a school theme that lasts throughout the entire school year?
  • How can students be encouraged to buy into a vision where every student feels they belong at school?

In our school’s student leadership program, we have developed a vision to empower all students to believe that they are leaders with the phrase that "Anyone can step up and lead, and anyone can step back and serve."

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The goal would be that every lesson and project-based activity in our student leadership classes would relate to this vision as students come to understand the initiative and confidence required to create a positive difference in their world. It is also just as important that students understand that leadership is about empowering others and building influence through service.

Leadership is for everyone, and everyone deserves to feel they belong at school. Student leaders must take ownership in helping to create this positive school environment. In the CharacterStrong Curriculum, students have opportunities to learn about themselves with a personality assessment. Some students at first do not believe they are leaders. But they soon learn that while we are all born with a distinct personality, all personalities can be vehicles for developing the character muscles needed to step into the role of a strong, positive leader. Another component in the curriculum is recognizing conflict, both internal and external, and understanding that there are strategies to show leadership by responding positively in difficult situations.

In addition, there is an emphasis on learning the “Eight Essentials” that are designed to help anyone to build their influence and improve their relationships with others. Examples of these Essentials, such as kindness, commitment and acceptance, are important concepts meant for every student to understand. Being aware of these Essentials also helps keep me accountable as a teacher. Am I showing patience with all students? How about committing to what I say I will do?

There are four words that start with the letter “S” that can help new advisors in organizing their vision for what student leadership activities look like at their school - Service, Supervision, Spirit and Speaking. With each “S” comes a question for students to think about and twenty possible examples of how to answer it:

Service - What did you do for others today?

  • Taking a field trip to volunteer at a community food bank or retirement center
  • Organizing classroom competitions to collect items for a food drive
  • Writing thank-you notes to staff members (especially the unsung heroes)
  • CharacterDares that challenge students to participate in activities such as helping out their parents around the house without being asked
  • Supporting local Special Olympics athletes at a Pack the Gym Night event
  • Creating displays to bring awareness to important causes
  • A global project - it brings the school together when there is a common goal
  • Helping the custodians with clean-up at an event
  • Reading with a first grade classroom

Supervision - How are you taking responsibility as a leader?

  • Taking turns monitoring recycling, compost and garbage bins at lunch
  • Creating a small garden at school and taking care of sustainable plants

Spirit - How can you make everyone feel they belong at school?

  • Choosing one day of the week to greet students at the main doors as they arrive at school
  • Building excitement for a variety of school events (club competitions, sports games, music concerts, dances, etc.)
  • Selecting spirit days that provide all students with opportunities to participate
  • Writing and delivering birthday grams to students
  • Creating a hallway display that features everyone’s name in the school

Speaking - How are you communicating how we should treat each others?

  • Opportunities for students to use their voice in Veterans’ Day and Martin Luther King assemblies
  • Student voice being present in morning announcements with inspirational quotes or references to a school theme
  • Field trip to 4th and 5th grade classrooms to teach a lesson on one of the Eight Essentials and build excitement for middle school
  • One way to create common purpose in our school has been developing a theme for the year. Students this year decided on the theme of Choose Love. They have carried on this theme be presenting monthly discussions to homeroom classes on Eight Essentials topics and facilitating conversations based on impactful videos and how we can apply these lessons into daily life at school. Then, support this theme on the video announcements.
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When students see their peers acting as positive leaders, they will want to join in and experience what it looks like to build influence for themselves - whether by joining the general elective leadership class or by building on these principles during sports, clubs or in the classroom. Ultimately, the lessons that students learn through social-emotional learning experiences both in and out of the classroom help them to understand more about themselves and others better. Since leadership is all about relationships, these lessons will prove to be relevant and valuable to students both now and in the years to come.

Video Resources:

About the Author: Karl Karkainen is a leadership teacher at Enumclaw Middle School in Enumclaw, WA and was the 2015 Washington State Middle Level Adviser of the Year. Karl is constantly challenging his students to be CharacterStrong by serving others in their school, home and community. Karl's students frequently publish videos showcasing how they are choosing to love others in their building, interviewing students on SEL topics and much more. Subscribe to their YouTube channel here and follow them on Twitter @emswolfie to see some of the amazing activities they are doing to serve others! 

How the Character Dare Process Changed My Life

Written By: David Volke, Liberty Middle School

As a teacher newer to the profession, I recognize and accept that I have a lot to learn. I guess it is a good thing that learning has been a friend of mine for decades. Learning has been inspiring but often challenging. There are times when I have felt that a task was simply impossible… until it wasn’t and that “Aha!” moment hit me. Combined with personal reflection, learning can help me grow as an educator, husband, father, leader, and human being. The learning process is a journey. A procession of steps towards a goal that is ever changing or redefining itself as my understanding and personal schema absorb and interpret the new information. One such journey began on a fateful day in the fall of 2016.


Many teachers dread professional development days during the school year. Often they are dictated by the administration at the school or by the district and can be seen as taking up precious time that could be used for planning, grading, communication with fellow teachers or families, and a multitude of other tasks that teachers juggle each and every day. However, this professional development day was different. I was excited about this one. We had a guest speaker coming in whose background was character education and the whole child: John Norlin. When John began his training, I remember being engaged and connected to his stories and message that character education was just as, if not more, important in schools today. His words stuck with me. I literally wrote in my notes, “This is my goal! I want to develop this culture at Liberty.” I remember leaving that training energized and inspired to do great things at my school but I needed guidance on what to do next.

In my quest for learning and self-improvement, I found an amazing opportunity to learn more from John Norlin and the CharacterStrong team. I signed up for the first ever CharacterStrong Educator Summit in January of 2017. I had been filled with so many ideas and a renewed passion from John’s two hour training; I could not imagine being a part of a two-day training! During this process, I learned so many things about myself. I learned that my habit development for teaching character at my school was conscious and unskilled. I knew what I wanted to do but I lacked the practice to be good at it. My understanding of the variations of love expanded as I learned about the Greek words for love and their connections within my life. I saw a lot of work to be done in all facets of my life in terms of character and relationships. What if I didn’t make changes in my life? What if I waited to ask the question that needed to be asked until it was too late? What if, like in John’s story, I lived most my life knowing I gave bad hugs?

One of the most challenging parts of the two-day training was the character dares. Yet, as my grandfather used to say, anything worth taking your time doing is worth doing right. These dares were also the most impactful and resonating moments of the weekend. One of the character dares tasked us with identifying someone in our lives who has influenced us and write out 3-5 traits we learned from them. I immediately thought of my father. My father, who worked two jobs when I was a boy to make sure my family was taken care of. My father, who coached my basketball teams all through elementary school even though he was busy. My father who taught me how to work hard, dedicate yourself to something, and never give up. He is likely the most influential person in my life. Therefore, I wrote down things about him like how he taught me respect, commitment, and honesty. It filled me with warmth to write about my dad, who had done so much for me in my life.

As the training moved on, we were asked to return to that influential person we wrote about, and write out a letter to them about their influence on our lives. Light music played in the background as the 90+ people in the school cafeteria space were quietly reflecting on how to properly thank these people in our lives. I remember writing and rewriting this message to my dad, thanking him for countless moments that I could never repay, and describing the ways that he helped make me the person I grew up to be. So many memories and moments flooded back to me during this time. I vividly remember my father returning home from his graveyard shift, after having already worked his other job during the day, and there I was walking out in my pajamas asking him if he would watch Looney Toons with me. After two shifts, and little sleep, my dad agreed to sit with me and be a part of my Saturday morning experience. I remember the time that I was determined to make my own remote control so that I would be in charge of the TV. When I finished my cardboard remote, I was astounded as I was able to change the channels and the volume. In reality, my dad sat behind me and watched me push the buttons as he mimicked what I was doing on the actual remote. I didn’t find this out until years later. So many stories to share…

On day two of the training, the character dare process truly changed my life. While I can say that my father and I have always been close, for years we have been more like buddies than father and son (mentor and apprentice). When my parents divorced, the relationship between my dad and I changed. Our conversations felt superficial, our discussions were not in depth, and the connectedness we once shared had waned. This was why the final step in the character dare process was so meaningful to me. John Norlin tasked us with calling the person who had impacted us and reading them our letter. He gave us a chance to break apart and make these calls, if we chose to do so, and I resolved to see the process through to the end. When I called up my dad, I was shaking with nervousness. I listened to the phone ring and I was afraid my dad would hear my heart pounding in my chest when he answered the phone.


“Hey dad it’s me.”

“Hey buddy! How’s the training?”

“It has been amazing so far. Some of the activities we are doing are truly powerful.” I paused to gather myself before speaking.

“Hey dad? Do you mind if I share something with you?” I said nervously.

“Sure. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?” He asked as he started to catch on to my tone.

“I think it is a good thing. It’s a letter I wrote to you that I’d like to read to you now… I’m going to try and get through it without crying.”

I proceeded to read him my letter. I got choked up multiple times but soldiered on. Tears streamed freely down my face as I shared so many emotions with him that I had kept pent up for so very long. I could hear my father crying on the other end, at a loss for words, as he listened. My father is a large man. A tough man. I have maybe seen him cry three times in my life. As I finished reading, we both took some time to compose ourselves and my dad was the first to speak.

“Wow son. I don’t know if I deserve all of that. Thank you so very much for sharing with me. Let me tell you what I think of you…”


Another round of sharing and even more tears as my dad, my mentor, my advisor, my coach, my source of wisdom, but also my cheerleader, my supporter, my fan, and my friend opened up to me after so long. He shared how I have impacted his life and how I have been an idol for him. I remember ending that conversation with cheeks still wet but a smile on face. As I walked back into the room with the other professionals, I ran into John as he was preparing to bring everyone back together.

I took a deep breath and told him, “That was rough.”

John replied, “It was worth it though wasn’t it? You’re beaming right now.”

“It was absolutely worth it.”

The character dare process has very literally changed my life and my relationship with my dad. I believe in the character dare process. I believe it can be impactful if you choose to ask the questions that do not get asked. Oh, and the letter that I wrote my father? He framed it and hung it in his home. You cannot tell me that that was not impactful. Trust the process.

About the Author: David Volke is in his 6th year of education having taught in Honduras at an international high school for two years and spending the last four years at Liberty Middle School in Camas, WA. He has taught a technology class, Model United Nations, U.S. History, and AP U.S. Government but currently teaches 6th grade language arts and social studies, as well being the advisor for the school’s ASB program. On top of teaching, David has coached basketball, track, Knowledge Bowl, and MUN, as he believes it is important to work with students outside the classroom. His loving wife of nearly 11 years and two amazing daughters are his guiding force in life, always supporting him in his efforts to improve himself and his understanding. David is a CharacterStrong advocate and is interested in making education about the whole child. 

Building Influence Through Athletics

Written By: Jeff Baines

James C. Hunter said, “Leadership is influence.”  With that, the ultimate question is how can a person in a position to influence, such as the athletic director, impact the athletes, programs, school and ultimately the overall culture?  It all starts with your own purpose and your own “why”.

As an athletic director, coach or any person with the ability to work with and influence others, you must be well-engrained with your own purpose for doing what you do each and every day. Without this foundation and inner purpose, how can one serve and influence in a positive manner? My charge is that you cannot. With this in mind, it is imperative to form this foundation. For me, I define my purpose and then I follow up with a single word that will allow for constant reminders of my purpose and my why. For me, my why is this, “Make today better than yesterday and let tomorrow take care of itself.”  For the last three years, I have adopted my word for the year to support this.  These words have been “intentional” and “finish”, and this year is “courage”. Don’t cheat this step; it is imperative that this be the first task in order to set the tone and get yourself grounded in something you believe in and more importantly in something that will withstand adversity and pressure, including that pressure from parents.  Stay strong and committed to your purpose, your why.  Be genuine in your efforts and consistently reinforce what you stand for.  Jon Gordon said it well in The Carpenter, “People can tell if you have and agenda.  So don’t have one.  Just love, serve, care and build relationships and your influence will grow.”

At Sumner High School where I work, we have built a culture centered on servant-leadership and the eight essentials.  The eight essentials include kindness, respect, humility, selflessness, forgiveness, honesty, commitment and patience.  I use this to drive everything I do as an assistant principal, athletic director and ASB/Student Council Administrator. I am fortunate to be in a community that also embraces these very concepts. It has come with a lot of hard work and effort to bring servant-leadership to SHS. Use the resource you have and plug into the community resources in your area.  Each community is unique and has many great resources available.  Be humble enough to know that you do not have all the answers and there are many that can assist you in this journey.


Perhaps the most influential idea that has developed for me over the years is something that is called “Baines Land”.  It didn’t start out that way, and in fact, the name itself makes me feel a little uneasy.  This idea started with a conversation between my wife, Marguerite, and myself in our garage.  I was sharing with her my desire to get the Sumner High School staff more involved with our students’ extra-curricular lives at Sumner High School.  Our conversation shifted to home football games and my desire to provide an opportunity for staff to come out and support the team, cheerleaders, dance team and band, while they performed at our home games.

The turning came when Marguerite simply stated that the staff has families and to bring a family to a crowded football game is not an easy task, especially the many young families represented by our SHS staff.  She encouraged me to find something for families to do and you can get them there.  With that our brains started churning.  Not long after that I came home to find toys in my garage.  When asked Marguerite simply said, “They've got to have something to do if you want them there!” And on we went, buying as many toys as we could at garage sales to create our inventory of items to have on Friday nights.

That September we began to advertise free food and a place to play for kids so adults could watch the game at each of our home football games. I told everyone, all they needed to do was to show up and come find me in the west end zone.  It all started with a 10x10 pop-up tent and a few pizzas for everyone to eat and some bottled water. That first game, a small crowd came down to enjoy the evening. Kids played on the ride along toys and everyone enjoyed their pizza and the game. The thing that struck me more than anything was the connection our staff was making with each other. There was conversation and smiles, not to mention a great spot to watch the game. 

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As that first year went on, the numbers began to grow. I added pizza, snacks, water and coffee to the menu. As we approached year two, our toy inventory grew and the menu expanded a little bit more. In terms of people attending, the numbers climbed and have continued to climb. The community that was being formed was amazing. The bonds being made to each other, our school and our teams were growing as well. What started out as a small idea has grown into an amazing display of community within Sumner High School. It was at the conclusion of the second year that the term “Baines Land” was coined. This is easily a tribute to my amazing wife and our Spartan Community. What started out on game #1 with one pop-up tent and a few pizzas has grown into eight tents, Jimmy John sandwiches, water, juice coffee, snacks and the ultimate playground for the little ones. Kids enjoy bikes, cars, legos, riding toys, balls, trikes, and this year the addition of a pop-a-shot and inflatable slide!  In the end it’s not about anything other than how my wife and I were able to find a way to serve the community and have a positive influence on so many people that mean so much to us.                  

I hope you were able to get a small sense of my approach to my role as an athletic director and to my approach to influencing my athletes, coaches and parents in a positive way.  When you walk away from your next high school contest or activity, think of those young men and women that competed and participated as amazing young men and women that displayed tremendous courage and left everything out there for their school, their family and more important, themselves.  Be thankful for them and please make sure that you let them know.  Even the biggest, brightest and most expensive scoreboard is turned OFF at the end of the night.  Always remember, “The courage to step into and enter the arena is much more important than any result.  It’s all about the journey.”

About the Author: Jeff Baines has been involved in high school athletics as a player, coach, parent or athletic director for over 32 years. He is completing his 17th year as an administrator/athletic director at Sumner High School. Prior to being an administrator he was a  Math and Physical Education Teacher. He has seen first-hand, the power of servant leadership and the impact that serving others and caring for the whole child can have on a community. He has a daughter and two step sons. He has been married to his wife Marguerite 27 years, he considers her to be his biggest fan and biggest supporter. You can follow Jeff Baines on Twitter @BainesJeff

Mindfulness: To Pay Attention on Purpose in a Particular Way 

Written by: Lyndsay Morris


It’s a skill that is simple to do, yet not always easy to practice in our fast-paced culture. However, through this skill of wiring our brain to focus on one thing, while tuning into our internal GPS system, we begin to develop the capacity to observe our thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness is simply the practice of awareness.

When we expand our awareness and kindness for self, we're able to access awareness and kindness for others. Here at Generation Wellness, we blend mindful practices with the latest research in positive psychology, providing educators simple tools and activities that teach peace.

Shawn Achor, a Harvard Researcher, discovered there are 5 simple habits that lead to more happiness:

  1. Gratitude
  2. The Doubler
  3. Exercise
  4. Stillness
  5. Conscious Acts of Kindness

(For more info on his research, check out this awesome TED Talk.)

Therefore, we believe in teaching these “happiness habits” in our schools. This audio relaxation provides time for stillness, while focusing on conscious acts of kindness. Cheers to healthy, happy, whole human beings who positively impact the lives of others!


About the Author: Lyndsay Morris is a whole child education advocate, the founder of Generation Wellness, the host of the Wellness Warriors Show and co-author of The Mindful Student. Lyndsay is committed to “wellness for all” by integrating movement, mindfulness and cutting-edge social/emotional activities that teach the skills needed to thrive in both school and in life. She empowers students, parents and educators to live a life of happiness, health and success through trainings, webinars, virtual mentoring and the Wellness Warrior Community. 

Quantifiable Feedback

Written By: Houston Kraft

One of the hallmark skills of great educators is the ability to give and receive feedback. At CharacterStrong, we think of feedback as the breakfast of champions — it demonstrates humility and courage and gives you critical data to improve yourself and your relationships. We ALL have blindspots - things we don’t know that we don’t know and things we don’t see that we don’t see. But most people don’t help you see those blind spots uninvited! Great leaders actively seek it out. The only rule? When someone is generous enough to give it (it can be a vulnerable process for them, too!), you cannot get defensive. Humility requires us to hear their feedback from their point of view, thank them honestly, ask for clarification if needed, then get to work.

When we take time to actually act on feedback given to us by intentionally working to close the gaps that have been identified in our actions or our character or our relationships, it shows to the people that we’ve asked that:

1) You care enough to truly listen to what they have to say and

2) You care enough about that relationship to honor their feedback with the hard work necessary to improve.

It is a good reminder that the people who give us this feedback don’t expect us to be perfect. In fact, the simple act of asking for feedback usually raises eyebrows (in a good way) because it is the sometimes scary and humbling recognition that you DON’T have it all together. The further act of following through on that feedback, even imperfectly, is evidence to those that you are trying to serve that you WANT to be better. These are healthy things in our relationships.

Finally, if you ever want to be taken seriously when dishing out feedback to those you care about, it certainly helps to have been proactive in asking for it first. The more you ask for it, the more you build the credibility to give it.

You can download our Quantifiable Feedback Form here. This is one of the many ways at CharacterStrong that we use to gather feedback. This specific technique can be used in multiple ways.


1) Give it out to individuals and use it to address your relationship to them. Use it to ask, on a scale of 1-10, how am I doing as a Sibling/Spouse/Friend/Teacher/Co-Worker/Etc.. Then, what are some specific ways I can be more of a 10 in our relationship?

2) Give it out to multiple people and target something you think you might need work on. Use it to ask, on a scale of 1-10, how am I doing as a Listener/Communicator/Planner/Etc.. Then, what are some specific ways I can be more of a 10 in that skill?

The more of these you give out, the less it stings when you get back the good, raw, real stuff. We always say it is better to know - at least then you can DO something to actively make your relationships and your world better.

Let’s get to work!

About the Author: Houston Kraft is a professional speaker, leadership consultant, and kindness advocate who speaks to middle schools, high schools, colleges, and businesses across the country. He has spoken to nearly a half a million people nationwide at nearly 500 events and counting. 

True Story Friday - A Strategy Your Students Will Love

Written By: Brandon Bakke, Sumner High School Assistant-Principal

The Challenge

In 1996 I began student teaching at Buchanan High School in Clovis, California. I was playing basketball for Fresno State University at the time, and for my students and I it was a surreal experience. Their teacher would be on TV playing basketball by night, then teaching them history first thing the next morning. Obviously this made for some interesting conversation as my curious students wanted to know about the game, ask me about Coach Tarkanian and various teammates, or tease me for screwing up in some capacity. Needless to say I got teased a lot.

Bob Ulrich was my mentor teacher. He had many nuggets of wisdom that helped shape me into the teacher I’d become, but one challenge he gave me would plant a seed that has now produced fruit for close to 25 years in many classrooms even outside of my own. Bob recognized that although my students had a visual glimpse into my life outside of school, they didn’t truly know me. “Brandon,” he said, “until they really know you... the real you… the person inside… you will never get them to learn at their highest potential.” You are not just Brandon Bakke the basketball player.” I didn’t fully understand why this might be so, but I trusted his wisdom and thought intently about how I could somehow open myself up a bit to my students...True Story Friday was born.

“Until your students really know you... the real you… the person inside… you will never get them to learn at their highest potential.”


The Strategy

Sometimes the best strategies are the easiest, and in some ways I’m embarrassed that the very best thing I ever implemented in my teaching career happened in the third week of my student teaching and was so simplistic. On Friday I announced to my students, “Today is True Story Friday, you give me a topic, any topic, and I will tell a true story about it from life.” As I explained it to my students I was curious what the response would be, would they care enough or be interested to the point where anyone would even suggest a topic?

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“Any topic?” one student asked. “Any topic” I affirmed.  I was shocked as multiple hands shot up. The first ever topic for True Story Friday was, “pranks,” and so I took five minutes at the end of the period and told a true story from my life about a prank I once pulled. I didn’t end up having enough time to finish the story so I told them they’d have to wait until next week for the exciting conclusion.  On Monday eager students wanted to know the end of the story, “Nope, you will have to wait until Friday.” When my story finally ended the following Friday you could hear laughs, see smiles, we could all feel a connection. I heard one student from the back of the room say,  “Oh I got a great topic for next Friday Mr. Bakke!”


As the semester progressed, one story at a time, I opened up my life to my students, often having to stretch myself to be vulnerable. Though stories centered around topics of their choice, at a time that I designated, one story at a time, my students heard about my family, old escapades, and relationships. While my stories tended to be funny they also learned about my failures, regrets, heartache and shortcomings. I discovered my students beginning to find times to share with me some of their interests, family dynamics, and their vulnerabilities.  In being intentional about wanting them to get to know me, I really got to know them. This allowed me to reach my students at a much deeper level.

"In being intentional about wanting my students to get to know me, I really got to know them."


I still laugh when I think about the first Friday in my second school year teaching when I introduced True Story Friday to my students. When I asked for topics, one of my students immediately blurted out, “My sister told me to get you to tell the horse story!” Haha, my stories started to become mini legends! One year I had a class make me sign a pledge that I would never be sick on a Friday because they argued they were being robbed. Since 1996 I have former students of mine who reach out to say hello, when I ask them about what they remember, the first thing they say without fail…True Story Friday. I have former students who are now teachers, all of whom have told me they use True Story Friday, and that their students are loving it. I had a student teacher in 2001 who for the last 16 years has been using True Story Friday, as other teachers we have come into contact with have heard about it, they too have employed it… and no matter the school, no matter the year, it continues to be be a conduit to help teachers and students build relationships.

The Why

When my mentor teacher first challenged me to open up to my students I wasn’t sure why this was so important, I totally underestimated the most important ingredient for fostering learning: building a relationship with my students. Over 50 percent of the academic outcomes of school-age children stem from what the teacher does in the classroom (Hattie, 2008), and teacher-student relationships have a 0.72 effect size when it comes to student achievement (Hattie, 2008). It is truly the master teacher’s secret sauce, for as the legendary Pacific Lutheran University Football Coach Frosty Westering reminds us, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

"I totally underestimated the most important ingredient for fostering learning: building relationships with my students."


The Details

  • Teachers all tell stories, but giving the event a formal title and specific time slot made it way more effective, memorable, and fun.
  • Always end the Friday period with True Story Friday (you will inevitably spend way more time than you want to if you start the period with it).
  • It's ok to stop before the story is done, it adds to the dramatic climax when the story takes a few Fridays.
  • Stay disciplined to Friday only. I found I actually saved a lot of class time when something would come up in a lesson and the urge for a tangent would come up and I’d say, “that would be a good topic for true story Friday.”
  • The secret is to have really good stories ready to go. When they give you a topic, you will be surprised how you can find a way to connect it to one of your own legendary stories.
  • Be vulnerable, you will gain strength from being able to share your weaknesses. Students can relate so much to your own struggles. I found that many really important conversations stemmed from something that was heard during True Story Friday.
  • Keep it school appropriate.  My first “prank” True Story Friday story inspired a student to pull a prank that eventually got him in trouble with school. I felt terrible.  I learned I had to start some of my stories often with the “don’t you dare try this” disclaimer.
  • Most importantly, be responsive when students begin to open up to you. They listened to your stories, now you listen to theirs.


Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.

(Jensen, 2013). Understanding Effect Size

  • Under 0.00 = negative effect
  • 0.00 - 0.20 = marginal effect
  • 0.20 - 0.40 = positive effect
  • 0.40 - 0.60 = substantial effect
  • 0.60 - 2.00 = enormous effect

About the Author: Brandon Bakke is in is 22nd year in education, a career that has has spanned four different high schools in two different states. He taught history and government and coached basketball for the first seven years of his career at both Clovis High School (CA), and Mount Tahoma High School (Tacoma, WA). The last 15 years he has served as an Assistant Principal at both Foss High School (Tacoma, WA), and currently at Sumner High School (WA).  

The Power of Introverts

Written by: Jeff Sowards, Lakewood High School


I was terrified.  For some reason I had said yes to something I had, as an adult, avoided for more than 30 years.  I agreed to give a short “tuck in”or evening speech to the entire delegation at one of Washington’s premier leadership conferences.  Although I had been a member of the staff of the conference for more than three decades, I had always worked with small groups, served behind the scenes, collaborated with my peers, but never had I shared the stage with just a microphone.  What was I thinking!

I knew what I wanted to say, but how does an introvert stand on stage in front 300 of the brightest young adults in the state and profess to have some insight into the nature of introverts and extroverts?  So, I did a bit of research, wrote, re-wrote, re-wrote again, then practiced countless times what I would say that night, all while trying to convince myself that this discomfort was what growth was all about. The delegates were most accommodating, the speech went off without a hitch, and several delegates even came up to me afterwards and thanked me for connecting with them.  Whew!  What a euphoric relief.

It is important that as educators we remember that many of our students rue the day we announce that group work will occur, or that presentations are coming soon, or that everyone will be graded on participation marked by how often they contribute to the discussion.  Anxiety rises, panic ensues, careful planning happens, delivery starts, presentations are cut short, emotions take over….you’ve seen it.  We are, as educators, encouraged to create learning environments that often times terrify some of our students.  And yet, if we are intentionally creating a culture of love in our classrooms, then the stage becomes a safer place to fail, yes fail.  Through that failure/struggle, and with our careful guidance, the introvert finds the impossible possible, the terrifying rewarding.  

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I hope, that as the first semester ends, and the second begins, that you will take a moment to reflect on your students.  Be intentional in getting to know them, their personalities, and their character.  Carefully craft opportunities for them all to grow, being always mindful that that "quiet kid" might just take more time to get on stage.


That speech mentioned above is here with a few minor edits from the original:

In 1979, a brief 34 years ago, I was sitting exactly where you are sitting; soaking up everything.  I remember the speakers, a bit of their message, the props they used….little did I know, then, how life changing Mt. Adams would be.  Mt. Adams was also a little discomforting for me.  Not harmfully so, but it seemed that all the people were extroverts…and I was the quiet kid who was always thinking about what was going on or being discussed, but who rarely would offer anything unless asked.  Don’t get me wrong.  Being uncomfortable; being challenged is often where great growth occurs.  I was an athlete, and now I coach Cross Country and Track, and the discomfort I’m describing is a bit like your practice in preparation for competition.  It is uncomfortable so that we can get better, in order to give our best when it counts.  So this week, I hope the seeds for your growth as leaders and people are well-sown like they were for me 34 years ago.  

You’ve been learning about each other in council and in your school groups. You’ve learned a bit about each other’s personality traits.  You’ve learned a bit about the love languages. We are a lot alike in many regards, and yet we are all very unique as well. The psychologist Carl Jung said that we tend to fall into two general groups: Extroverts and introverts.  Extroverts are more gregarious, outgoing, and out there.  Introverts are more quiet, contemplative and sometimes shy.  I suspect that if I asked you to raise your hand if you were an extrovert, you would have no problem doing so if that was you. But I know that if I asked you to raise your hand if you were an introvert some of you would find it challenging.  Tonight I’d like to challenge both of you.

Our society celebrates extroverts and even expects us to see them as the leader:

When was the last time you saw an NBA player sink a tremendous shot at the end of a game and not celebrate their accomplishment?  Or a soccer player after she scored a goal who doesn’t run around the field?  Don’t get me wrong, celebration of such an accomplishment is spontaneous and perfectly expected.  But compare the image you have of those two with these:  What picture and feelings do you have of the student who sits in the corner of your classes, who rarely speaks, when she is called upon gives an awkward but correct answer, and often gets the highest score in the class.  Or the student who would rather work on his own when a group project is given?  As a society we often celebrate the traits of the extrovert and marginalize the traits of the introvert.

The strong speaker; the person who easily strikes up a conversation; the person who easily works the room at a gathering, are all often naturally seen as a leader and afforded the attention and admiration of others.  Yet, research shows that clearly 1/3 of us in this room consider ourselves introverts.  Some of us sometimes even put on the trappings of extroversion because it seems most acceptable; even the ideal in our society.  

Think for a moment about leaders who might act in these ways:

1)  taking action vs contemplating

2)  taking risks vs taking heed

3)  working in teams vs working alone

We may naturally have a tendency toward the former as opposed to the latter.  What might be more ideal is to seek a balance between the two.  In fact the two may need each other in order to produce the better result.  

Introverts, and their extroverted friends, have brought us things like:  the theory of gravity; 1984 and Animal Farm; Cat in the Hat; the movie Schindler’s List; Google; Windows; Harry Potter…and the list goes on and on.  The introverts achieved these things not in spite of their introversion but because of it.

In concluding her book Quiet, Susan Cain leaves us with three challenges 1) We need to balance group work with individual work  2) She says we need to on occasion “go to the wilderness”, unplug, and be reflective and contemplative; because this allows all of us the chance for deep creative thought  3) and she challenges extroverts to continue to share their personalities and passions with us, because we need you!; and introverts she reminds us that we need to develop the courage to share what we have because we need you equally.

Finally, here is my challenge to you introverts:  when called upon, you must and I confidently know you can lead!  I suspect that you when it happens you will be well-prepared, quiet but firm, creative and constructive, and you may just surprise those around you.  Extroverts, I challenge you to be patient with us introverts, and continue to challenge us, but you never know, it just might take us 34 years to get on stage!  Thank you.

About the Author: Jeff Sowards is a 31 year veteran Social Studies Teacher at Lakewood High School where he teaches U.S. History, Honors/AP U.S. History, Honors/AP U.S. Government and Politics, Honors/AP U.S. Comparative Government and Politics, and Principles of Leadership.  He is also the head Cross Country, and Track and Field Coach.  He was the WIAA 2A State Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2010.  He served for more than 30 years on the staff of Mt. Adams Leadership Conference.  Jeff is passionate about guiding students in their discovery and application of Love as a verb in the classroom, athletics, and their personal lives.


Scarcely Happy

Written By: Brent Grothe, Wenatchee High School

“There’s just not enough to go around,” is a common statement from people afflicted with a scarcity mentality. Financially, such people hoard personal items, pinch pennies, compare themselves to others who they perceive as having more “stuff,” and are envious of others for having that “stuff.” My dad, raised in the Great Depression, made a habit out of turning off lights in the house, even if you were in the room at the time, and even taught me how to use just two squares of toilet paper per sitting, as unseemly and irrational as that may be. But I understand him - he was raised on a farm with very little and had to make do with less rather than more. He raised five children on a small income and we didn't suffer a bit for it - but we did learn the scarcity mentality, at least I know I did. I’ve had to unlearn it by adopting an abundance mentality - it’s been difficult to do, but the purse strings are loosening up and I’m much more relaxed with money and things, with “stuff’ - not foolish with spending, but more generous and rational. Money, or the lack of such, doesn't have a grip on me like it used to have when I was first married and hanging on to every dime. However, my most critical scarcity battle hasn’t been fought with money; it’s being fought right now in the high school classroom where I teach, on the battlefield of relationships.

Here’s the problem: all my students just want to be happy but very few, if any of them, can define what true happiness is all about. Most of them live their lives on the first two levels of four levels of happiness as defined by Aristotle - the first being Laetus, happiness derived from the immediate gratification of consuming material objects. My students, once they understand this somewhat obscure Laetus thing, often come to the conclusion that they do indeed attempt to find happiness through consuming - whatever that consumption might be. The alarming aspect of this is that human beings also fall into the category of “things” and, as a result many, if not all, of their relationships are consumer relationships. They use people for their own gratification by failing to realize that “people were created to be loved and things were created to be used.” Instead, they love things, and for good reason - they think that things will make them happy. More things equals more happiness. And so people become things to be used in order to be happy. All of this confusion creates a scarcity mentality - there’s just not enough stuff to go around - not enough pizza, not enough recognition, not enough physical intimacy, not enough love, not enough friends, not enough likes on Facebook, not doesn’t end.


What this leads to is the deadly second level of Aristotle’s happiness, namely Felix, the happiness of comparative advantage, of ego satisfaction. Father Robert Spitzer, who refined the model of the Four Levels of Happiness, says the focus of Felix is to keep “comparative advantage over others,” to keep “power and control.” It’s a roller coaster ride of constant comparison for my students; if someone has more than them - better grades, prettier looks, a nicer car, fashionable clothes, bigger muscles, more popularity, or even a more stable family - then they feel unhappy, inferior, bitter, resentful. There’s just not enough to go around. If, however, they compare themselves and think they have more than others, then they feel happy, superior, and even arrogant - and they’re not sharing because, you’ve got it, there’s just not enough to go around. But there’s always someone with more and always someone with less - and so the comparisons go on ad infinitum, ad nauseam.


So the glass is half empty, it never gets filled, and there’s never enough - even though popular media promises happiness through consuming. And so girls become more anxious, boys become more angry, more people get used, and nobody seems very happy at all - in fact, depression escalates and social problems multiply. What now? Aristotle proposes, along with Spitzer, that the third level of happiness, Beatitudo - the happiness of seeing the good in others and doing good for others, contains the beginnings of some answers. This abundance mentality changes the whole game for my students - they stop comparing (which they admittedly despise in themselves), stop consuming, and begin giving. They move away from the neurosis of taking and into the joy of giving - as Erich Fromm put it, “The essential difference between the unhappy, neurotic type person and him of great joy is the difference between get and give.” They begin to understand that if they live for things or for advantage, that there will never be enough and that they’ll never be good enough. They learn, as Brene’ Brown so aptly put it, that “I am enough.” They discover that they don’t need to consume or compare in order to be happy, to be enough. What they excitedly discover is that they have an enormous capacity for love within their selves and now just need to learn to love, to give, to appreciate, to have gratitude, to see the glass as half full - to live in abundance. They discover that the more love they give, the more love they have. They begin to open up, to be less protective, to be more vulnerable and wholehearted. They discover that their feelings don’t have to control their lives - they act on what they know is true and good rather than on how they feel. They take risks - good, loving risks with others, others that they now see, to quote Martin Buber, as a “thou” rather than as a thing to be used. They consume less and promise more. They make sacrifices for others rather than sacrificing others for personal gain and futile attempts at happiness.


And what begins to happen to them? They’re happier. Their glass remains at least half full and even begins to overflow into the lives of others. They see that they are enough and that there’s enough to go around. This all takes time - a lifetime, but it’s a lifetime of discovering, in this difficult, often tragic world, that there is joy to be had, a joy that transcends simple happiness, and moves them into the fourth level of happiness - the “fullness of goodness, beauty, truth and love.” It’s difficult to describe, but not nearly as difficult as trying to live in a scarcity mentality, in a life of consuming and comparison. There IS more, much more.


About the Author: Brent Grothe is an experienced high school teacher who has taught and coached for 38 years, the past 28 in Wenatchee, WA , after beginning his career with 10 years in Medical Lake, WA. He taught English and Leadership for the first 12 years and since has been teaching Leadership, coordinating and advising ASB Student Government and Activities, and is currently in his 34th year of coaching.  He has also been active for 41 years as a junior counselor, senior counselor, and director with the WASSP sponsored Mt. Adams Leadership camp.  He firmly believes in, and promotes, the servant leadership/love is a verb approach to life with his students, leaders, and athletes. 

3 Things Your Students Need Coming Back From Break

Written By: Lindsay Norlin

Coming back to the classroom after two weeks off is often times not only difficult for students, but teachers as well. It's important that we all take a day to ease back into the swing of things and also gauge the well-being of our students. As we all know, the holidays can be a joyous time for some, but for others it can be a source of stress and instability. Here are three things you can do that first week back to check-in on your students, build community and remind them of your expectations.

1. Temperature Check - It is important to check-in with students to see where they are at coming back from break. In secondary classrooms this can be tough provided the amount of students a teacher has and the difficulty it might be for some students to share what is going on publicly for all to hear. Here is a simple google survey you can replicate that is a quick, but effective way to do a temperature check on all students that allows them the privacy to share with you individually. Feel free to make a copy and use it with your own students. We have seen teachers use check-in tools like this on a weekly basis, which over time allows students to feel more and more comfortable to share what is going on outside of the classroom. This allows teachers the opportunity to connect individually and show interest in their current situation or provide support if needed. It can take the guessing game out of teaching when a kid has their head down or seems uninterested in the lesson. It can also provide opportunities to build relationships with your students on things they share through the survey.

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2. Revisit Expectations - It is our belief that ALL people need to be reminded more than they need to be taught. As a teacher, I often needed to be reminded of my copy code in January and what lunch I had on late start Wednesdays. Our students need these reminders as well. Coming back from break is a great time to remind students what the expectations are in your classroom surrounding daily procedures like cell phone use, when to use the pencil sharpener and how to transition from one activity to another. It helps to actually give students scenarios and let them physically practice it. Add some humor by allowing kids to demonstrate the wrong way to do things, just don't forget to model the correct way as well! Remember, that besides your normal classroom expectations, what kind of expectations do you have around building relationships inside and outside your classroom each day?


3.  Build Community - Every teacher knows the feeling of those first staff meetings coming off of summer break, and any great administrator knows it would be a terrible move to start off that staff meeting going over the school improvement plan. Provide your students an enjoyable activity to remind them that building relationships with their peers is important and enjoyable. Your students will thank you for giving them one day to ease into the swing of things before jumping into your lesson on the "Causes of the Great Depression" or "Newton's Three Laws of Motion". Here is an activity you can use with your students to get them up and moving and interacting with their peers. If you have done this activity before, it never hurts to do it again. Simply encourage them to find a new partner to conduct the activity with.

Enjoy this first week back and remember that for some of your students the one consistent safe and positive place in their life is your classroom. As tough as it is coming back from break for most of us, the impact you make on a daily basis is unmatched by most professions. Thank you for what you do each day for kids. Let’s make 2018 a great year that focuses on supporting the whole child!

About the Author: Lindsay Norlin was a Social Studies Teacher for ten years at Sumner High School where she taught U.S. History, Contemporary World, You and the Law and IB Psychology. She strongly believes developing character and supporting the Whole Child is key to a student's success as she saw first-hand the impact it had on her students. This year she began working for CharacterStrong in terms of helping coordinate trainings, support schools implementing the curriculum and provide CharacterStrong resources for teachers. 

3 Things Every Educator Should Do This Holiday Break

Written By: John Norlin

Today my wife and I took our 3 year old to see Santa and get pictures taken. As I watched the pure joy of a 3 year old play out as he stood in front of Santa and answered his questions I couldn’t help myself in getting caught up in realizing what was most important. There is nothing better than quality time with those we are closest with and love so dearly. As I watched our son get put on Santa’s lap he all of a sudden asks Santa, “How are things going at the North Pole?” Santa looked shocked for a half second and as he answered with a smile he said, “I have seen 4,000 kids so far this year and not one child has asked me how things were going at the North Pole.” I was reminded of how important it is that we act interested in others and teach our students to do the same. During this much needed and deserved time of rest for educators who serve our kids so passionately and unconditionally here are 3 things that every educator should do this holiday break.

1. Take time to unwind, but don’t forget to communicate


One of the interesting things about being in education is that it is really hard to describe to others what it is that you actually do on a day to day basis. Anyone who has ever taught for a year knows all the little and big things that a caring teacher balances each day. No bigger is the burdens that educators attempt to carry on their shoulders for the students they serve each day. For example, it is almost impossible to turn off the thoughts you have of the student you know is going home to an unstable or unhealthy situation. Students who during this holiday are not experiencing joy and celebration but instead stress and anxiety. As educators transition into break it is important to take time for yourself to unwind and decompress from the daily stressors, but many times this does not happen because we don’t communicate clearly what we need. Just like good teaching, pre-correct by letting those closest to you know that you need a day, a morning, or an evening, at any different point this break to relax and take care of yourself. Let them know why and that you will be fully present outside of that time.

2. Find time to reconnect with your purpose


There are lots of solid holiday movies out there to watch and be filled with the “holiday spirit”. There are also some solid movies made about teachers making a difference that can help fill our buckets during this time of rejuvenation. Watch one of your favorites from the past that you have already watched or watch a new one that you have never seen. Either way, be reminded of the special and purposeful position that you are in. A profession that has the opportunity to change the world one student at a time and positively impact the lives of young people each and everyday. Nobody said it was supposed to be easy. If it was easy everyone could do it. It is the hard that makes it great! Here is a list of some powerful movies on teaching. Watch, laugh, cry, and most importantly inspire yourself to continue pushing forward as an educator on a mission to make a difference.

  • Dead Poets Society (1989)

  • Lean on Me (1989)

  • Stand and Deliver (1988)

  • Finding Forrester (2000)

  • Freedom Writers (2007)

  • School of Rock (2003)

  • Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)

  • The Great Debaters (2007)

  • The Emperor’s Club (2002)

  • Good Will Hunting (1997)

  • To Sir, with love (1967)

  • Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

  • October Sky (1999)

  • Pay it Forward (2000)

  • McFarland, USA (2015)

“Nobody said it was supposed to be easy. If it was easy everyone could do it. It is the hard that makes it great!”

3. Start taking Emergen-C with Vitamin C Immediately

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Doesn’t it seem like everytime you head into a break that you get sick immediately. Some of you might already have gotten the seasonal bug, but if you have or have not, immediately start drinking water and taking Emergen-C, Airborne (originally created by an educator), or some other immune system booster to help ward off any bugs trying to take hold of your body in attempts to throw off your much deserved break. This is an easy one to forget. One thing that educators are awesome at doing is taking care of others. One thing many educators struggle with is taking care of themselves. Take care of yourself so that you can better take care of others.

Ask Better Questions

By: Houston Kraft

In a time when we are connected digitally, we are also more isolated than ever. We must continue to teach, explicitly, the skills of building meaningful relationships. One of the most foundational skills of interpersonal relationships is asking great questions.


In working with over 500 schools across the country, I have noticed that when I ask students to engage in conversation with a partner they don’t know that well, there seems to be an immediate spike in sweat and discomfort in the room. It’s not that kids don’t want to be connected to one another - it’s that they don’t know how to do it.

Consider this: most of the way we communicate today via phone is short, shallow, and sent at our leisure. Text messages, tweets, snapchats. Perhaps even more importantly, education for many today has become transactional - meaning most students identify getting good grades as more important than the experience of learning.

The byproduct? When I ask students to talk about any given prompt, Partner 1 shares and then Partner 2 shares and then they stand awkwardly looking at the ceiling or their phone or their neighbor. Why? Because the “assignment” I gave them was over.

So, I dive right in and talk about how conversation and connection isn’t transactional! That, no matter what question I asked and when you each finished answering it, there is ALWAYS more to learn about a person and we must practice and cultivate curiosity in the stories of others.

I’ve started to compile some meaningful questions to help young people practice the art of great question asking. What if, at the beginning of each class, you spent the first 2-3 minutes having students engage each other in great conversation to prime the pump for the learning to come? You build relationships in your class AND you get their brains primed for what comes next.

Here’s the list. Obviously, some of these questions are meant for smaller groups, groups that have established trust, or a different setting than your classroom:

Economic Class Background;

  1. Growing up, did you feel like you had equal access to the things you wanted as the people around you?

  2. The people you live with - what do they do for work?

  3. Do you believe that money is more often helpful or more often hurtful? What is your personal relationship to money?

  4. Have you ever saved up for something you really wanted? What was it? How long did it take until you got it?

  5. If you had unlimited money, what would you want to buy first?

Psychological Maturity;

  1. What is the thing that is irresistible to you? What thing tests your willpower?

  2. What do you think your role at school is? What do you think your role at home is?

  3. How do you decide who your friends are? What are the qualities, to you, of a great friend?

  4. How do you process strong emotions? Do you talk to a close friend or family member? Do you tend to bottle them up? Do you channel them in other ways?

Ethical/Racial Identity;

  1. What is one thing you love about your culture or ethnicity? What is one thing that makes you feel trapped by your culture or ethnicity?

  2. Tell me about a time where you felt judged or discriminated against because of the color of your skin or the cultural background you come from?

  3. How do you honor your heritage? Is there anything you do that is counter-cultural for your background?

Chronological/Developmental Challenges;

  1. Tell me about your earliest, most vivid memory of being a kid.

  2. What has been the biggest hurdle or challenge you’ve overcome to become the person you are today?

  3. What period of your life have you grown the most in? How did you grow or what did you learn?

  4. Share with me the 3 things, moments, memories, or experiences that stand out most in your life so far.

Trauma and other Threats to Well Being;

  1. Tell me about a time in your life where you felt really scared.

  2. How do you define the difference between pain and suffering?

  3. What helps you heal through pain or find hope when you are suffering?

  4. Tell me about a time when you had to forgive someone (or yourself) for something that they did.

Family Background and History;

  1. Who do you consider to be family in your life?

  2. What is your favorite family tradition?

  3. Tell me about a memory that makes you laugh when you think about a member of your family.

  4. Who in your family has been the most positive influence in your life and why?

  5. What are or what do you want to be the 3 most important elements of being a part of your family?

Unique Physical Characteristics;

  1. What makes you entirely unique - different, you believe, than anyone else in the world?

  2. What part of your body makes you feel most confident? Most unconfident?

  3. How does your physical self affect your mental self and vice versa?

  4. How do you define beauty? How does the world define beauty? What is an important difference you want people to understand between those two?

  5. What is one weird thing you can do with your body?

Location of Residence and Languages Differences;

  1. Where do you feel most at home?

  2. How often have you moved in your life? Which time was the hardest and why?

  3. What physical location makes you feel the most comfortable? Most uncomfortable?

  4. What things are a part of the Universal Language to you?

  5. How does the way you speak affect the way you are perceived?

Other meaningful questions to grow in understanding:

  1. What does a perfect day look like to you?

  2. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

  3. If you could witness any event of the past, present, or future, what would it be?

  4. What would you do differently if you knew that no one was judging you?

  5. What are the things that stand between you and complete happiness?

  6. How would you describe yourself in 5 words?

  7. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

  8. If you could ask a single person one question, and they had to answer truthfully, who and what would you ask?

  9. What do you “owe” yourself?

  10. Whose life have you had the greatest impact on?

  11. What do you like most about yourself? If you could change one thing, what would it be?

  12. Who do you most admire or look up to and why?

  13. What frustrates you about the world? What is the greatest challenge we face?

  14. What do you feel is your mission or purpose in life?

  15. Where do you feel the most safe? Why?

  16. What is the most common thing you feel judged for? How do you feel you are perceived and what feels right or not right about that?

  17. What is your greatest fear? How does it shape you? Why are you afraid of it?

  18. What brings you the greatest happiness? How often do you pursue it? What gets in the way of it?

  19. If you could change one thing about your life so far, what would it be?

  20. What challenge holds you back currently and how do you want to conquer it?

  21. What is your definition of love? How have you come to that conclusion? When do you feel the most loved?

  22. If you could travel for one month with one person - where would you go and with who? Why?

  23. What is the most important advice anyone has ever given you? What is the most important advice you have to give?

  24. What are the words or ideas that you live by? How often do you challenge or reflect on them?

  25. Talk about a time when you’ve treated someone really poorly. Talk about a time when you’ve treated someone really kindly.

  26. What has been the hardest thing you’ve dealt with with your friends? With your family?

  27. How do you want to change your school? Your community? Your world?

  28. If you could snuggle with any cartoon character, who would it be and why?

  29. If you could be related to any celebrity or historical figure, who would you want to be related to and how? Why?

  30. What is your favorite sound? Your favorite taste? Your favorite sight?

Let’s keep asking our students to practice the skills that will shape their life and learning for the better!

The Earned Privilege of Teaching

Written By: Bryan Slater, Sumner High School

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We’re seeing some pretty dramatic transformations taking place in the 21st century classroom. Many districts are employing 1:1 initiatives where every student, instead of receiving 6+ textbooks to lug around every day, receives a laptop or Chromebook. Our students are glued to their world, which happens to be the size of their palm and doesn’t require a dial-up modem and America Online. Boys don’t have to muster up the courage to call their crush, knowing full-well that dad might be the one to answer the only phone in the house; the one in the kitchen with the 30 foot cord that’s a tangled mess. This has in many cases, revolutionized the classroom. Many students use their district-issued laptops to fact-check you as a teacher, on-the-fly, simply by doing a quick Google search. Anyone who currently teaches History can relate to the dreaded hand-raise by Josh in the middle of a lesson followed by the “Uh… Mr. Slater… it says here on Google that…”

And this is a good thing.

Teaching today is different than it was just a few years ago. Today’s generation of students require teachers to earn the privilege of teaching; it’s not automatic anymore. Arguably, it has never been automatic.

And this is a good thing.

Now before I get into depth on this topic, I think it’s important to first establish a central tenet to this essay: teachers must earn the privilege of teaching. I don’t mean this in the literal sense of earning a college degree which allows you to teach - I mean this in the sense of “influence.” Teachers must first earn the privilege of influencing their students which will in turn allow them to teach their content, and perhaps impact the lives of the children they influence in other positive ways as well.

Let’s break this down and get into why I would argue that this approach by students to require their teachers to earn the privilege of influence and ultimately the privilege of "teaching" is not just reasonable (I mean that literally - “able to be reasoned” using logic) but also in accordance with the principles of Servant Leadership. You may have read my previous blog post titled The Duty of First… in which I argued that teachers and other leaders have the duty of being the first actor when it comes to showing respect and the seven other essentials. To dig deeper into how the privilege of teaching goes hand-in-hand with the Duty of Firsts, let’s look at the rationale behind why today’s students have it “right” when it comes to requiring teachers to earn the privilege of teaching.

When looking at privilege, I think we can agree that privilege is something that all people do not have access to. It’s special, in other words. You can really only get privilege in three ways: buying your way into it, inheriting your way into it, or earning your way into it. Consider this: what’s the point of knowing what you know, if those you are teaching have not given you the privilege of teaching them what you know?

Look back at your own generation - broken homes, divided families, poverty, etc. - you’ll see that many of our students are coming from similar homes where the practice of showing kindness, respect, forgiveness, and the other essentials is just not employed on a daily basis. Therefore when a child gets to school and sees that piece of paper on your wall that says you graduated from college and are certified to teach children, all they may see is a piece of paper. That’s it. “Nice work. You graduated from college. Yet there you are, standing there proudly, expecting a cookie and some respect from me as a result? Nope… not today. You gotta earn it.” This developing adolescent consciousness is real; students today really think these things and the faster you accept this, the faster you will earn the privilege of teaching those who think these things. The teachers who stand before a group of students and expect the privilege of teaching without earning it first are confusing what they have accomplished in their lives with the earning of the privilege to teach.


To help illustrate this, let’s consider a stepfather-stepson relationship. Has an individual who has earned the title of “husband” also earned the role of “father” in the lives of his stepchildren? It all depends, right? It depends on whether the children decide to give him the privilege of being their father. It’s not their mother’s choice, it’s not their stepfather’s choice, it’s the stepfather’s job to earn the privilege of being called “dad.” Maybe he’ll be successful, maybe he won’t be.

Teaching is very similar to the aforementioned scenario. Earning a college degree that entitles you to talk in a classroom is not the same as earning the privilege of teaching. Every student who sits before you has the authority, and the decision, to grant you that privilege. This means you have to earn it. Earning it requires you to act on the Duty of Firsts.

I imagine you might be thinking at this point, “This is wrong. I disagree… I think students should be obliged to show me respect even if I haven’t earned it yet.” But in this retort, I believe you are confusing my position - a teacher has to *earn* the privilege of teaching their students - with the concept of being *worthy* of earning the privilege to teach. Those are not the same things. I tell my students on day one, “Perhaps I have done nothing to earn your respect; but it is unlikely -barring some outside-the-classroom interaction - that I have done anything yet to lose it, either.” In other words, “Don’t confuse my self-imposed necessity of earning your respect as some sort of statement of me not being worthy of it.” To be clear, the intent behind this approach is not to communicate to my students, “You have free rein to abuse me until I’ve earned the privilege of teaching you.”

My point is this: the students who sit before you daily have the authority to give you the privilege to be their “teacher.” It’s not automatic anymore, and arguably, it’s never been automatic. I imagine you could identify right now which teachers you assigned that privilege to and which teachers never earned that privilege in your life. So what’s the hold up? Tell your students you are aware that you have to earn the privilege of influencing them and that it’s an absolute honor to even have the opportunity to earn their respect. Tell them you believe you are worthy of their respect anyway because they *are* worthy, but tell them every day that you’re going to work hard to earn it. Let them know that you are aware of the fact that once you’ve earned the privilege, you are capable of losing it and that if you do lose it, you’d appreciate the opportunity to earn it back. The duty of firsts requires you to be the first actor if you lose the respect of your students, and I imagine if you go all-in with me on acting on the practice of showing it, you’ll find yourself doing a lot more teaching and a lot less talking in your classroom.

And this is a good thing.

About the Author: Bryan Slater is an experienced classroom teacher who has spent the last 15 years teaching high school Social Studies in Tacoma, WA, Lagos, Nigeria, and Sumner, WA. He currently teaches IB 20th Century Topics and Theory of Knowledge to 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders at Sumner High School. Bryan's passion centers on helping teachers and students understand the importance relationships play in developing a culture of learning and trust in the classroom. He believes the Eight Essentials are the key to those relationships and works hard to challenge his fellow colleagues and students to think about how they are creating their "Character Brand" as teachers and learners through the 1,000's of choices they make each day. 

Measuring the Impact of Character and Relationship Building on School Spirit

Written By: Enterprise Middle School 

What does SCHOOL SPIRIT have to do with this? While the traditional definition of school spirit falls flat and may only reach 10% of your school, creating a community where everyone belongs, seems like a sure-fire way to positively impact student learning through a new vision of school spirit.  School Spirit occurs when students and educators both WANT to come to school! When everyone wants to be at school, grades/attendance go up and bad behavior goes down.  This makes sense because humans need all of the following: purpose, validation, respect, safety, and trust.  If both students and staff want to come to school then these basic human conditions must be being met.

How would Character and Relationship Building impact someone’s desire to come to school?  That’s easy!  When people feel connected to something bigger than themselves they figure out “why” they come to school.  Simon Sinek taught us that when we understand our “why” we get excited to come to work or school.  The why-focused school community begins having a passion for learning, interacting with one another, and making a better school.  

Ok, school spirit might be a great gauge of a school’s work on Character and Relationship Building but how the heck do you measure it?  The same way you measure everything else in schools with hard data from grades, attendance, discipline, and test scores.  It’s no secret that students who have high social-emotional learning going on, have better hard data.  By understanding their “why” and having human conditions met, productivity increases all over campus.  Educators work harder and students accomplish greater success in these positive learning environments.  AND at EMS we’ve seen improvements across the board in these hard data measures.  But, if you’re like us, these cold, impersonal snapshots of school spirit leave you wanting more.  So, here’s a few recent anecdotal measures that matter to us on the impact of Character and Relationship Building on School Spirit:

  • Following a CharacterStrong Assembly one girl wrote a note of forgiveness to another girl.  Next day, the other girl reciprocated!
  • After receiving a CharacterStrong Award for Commitment, a girl posted a picture of the certificate and explained how proud she was for winning the award.  She went on to post that her elementary teachers had always told her she had dyslexia and that she felt she was dumb.  “This is the first teacher to believe in me!”
  • A high poverty, low academic skilled student reported that her band teacher had pointed out her “technique” and called it “outstanding” in front of the entire class.  She was asked to demonstrate her “finger positions” and detail it for her classmates.  She was overwhelmed by this experience saying: I’m not used to being told that I’m OUTSTANDING or treated like a leader!”
  • During a CharacterStrong lesson two girls became emotional as they detail who/why the person they looked up to MOST in the world was the other girl.  Despite a room full of squirrelly boys and girls you could hear a pin drop as everyone respected the two girls moment.  The Safe, Respected, Relationship-Building Culture that the teacher had created was Magical!
  • A local news reporter came to our school to do a 45 minute interview and get some footage for an anti-bullying piece she was doing.  She ended up spending nearly 3 hours.  Near the end of the interview, the principal, reporter and I were sitting wrapping things up when the reporter began to cry.  She explained that she’s overwhelmed with emotions about all the amazing things we’re doing with our school culture.  “Why isn’t EVERY school doing these things?”  “Why wasn’t it like this when I was in school?”

These are just a few of the anecdotes that we’re being flooded with since jumping into CharacterStrong.  They’re IMPACTFUL to us because they conjure up real students/staff who are being positively impacted by Character Education and Relationship Building.  All of these positive moments are enhancing School Spirit and in turn Learning!  

About the Author: Enterprise Middle School is located in the Richland School District in West Richland, WA that has 700 students in a growing district. They started using the CharacterStrong advisory and leadership curriculums this year and have become one of our flagship schools, showing what can happen to a building if they put their focus on relationships.

Before bringing the curriculum in, they assembled a rockstar team who did a lot of work to plan out implementation of the advisory and leadership curriculum. Their principal and guidance counselors wanted to train their staff on the curriculum so they hosted a CharacterStrong training at their school also bringing in teachers, administrators and counselors from surrounding schools. 

Follow them on Twitter @emswildcats1 and Instagram @emsleadership and @emscounseling to see the incredible things happening at their school.

4 Steps to Implement an SEL Curriculum Building-Wide

Written By: Enterprise Middle School

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Before trying to implement any new idea or thing in a school, a TEAM must be created to roll out the new program.  Picking the team is an essential part of the process.  Team members should have a growth mindset, be highly influential educators, and open to new ideas.  Ideally, a cross mix of individuals who can infuse their positive energy into some new direction.  Often times, schools make the mistake of selecting educators who are stuck in their ways and may need some fresh ideas or thoughts.  The thinking being that this new program will light a fire with these folks.  However, these educators tend to love or hate whatever the new thing is.  Teams with close minded folks tend not to inspire other educators to jump on board.  Other times, schools open team membership up to committees of interested people.  These committees have all the passion but none of the school influence to lead the new program into sustainability.  These self-selected teams can be highly effective AFTER a building influence team has begun the early implementation process.  


Once a capable team is created, the team must focus on TRAINING.  Training must be formal and informal in nature.  Professional Development allows this group of people to become the core support for the rest of the school.  As questions and opportunities arise within the program’s early implementation, this team will be equipped to lead the way.  Training has 3 phases: Initial Team Training, Initial Entire Staff Training, and Ongoing Training.  The team gets up to speed and then trains the entire staff (including paraprofessionals, secretaries, itinerants, etc).  Lastly, schools must offer small doses of ongoing training through staff meetings, book studies, emails, etc.  

Next up is PLANNING.  The team must make decisions on how things will all fit together.  Some of the key items on the agenda include: Themes, Assemblies, Staff meetings, who/how Advisory lessons are taught, and how will teachers be supported.  These teams must build in ways of celebrating successes of the program; both student and adult, AND how these successes will be communicated with parents/families.  Lastly, effective teams plan regular check-ins and identify how they’ll gauge success of the new program; both with real data and anecdotal.

ACCOUNTABILITY is the final step in implementing a building-wide SEL program.  If your team did their homework, then you’ve chosen an exceptional program which is both fresh and engaging for students/staff.  However, every school has a need to make sure all staff are on track.  A highly effective method that we’ve used is to get into classrooms every Friday during Advisory time.  During this time, the office team engages with students, offers support, and take pictures/videos to share out.  We also send highlights of amazing moments from these observations through emails, social media, and/or google classroom.  By focusing on outstanding positive teaching and publicly recognizing educators, we’re able to encourage the types of relationship-focused work that’s a game changer in schools.  The TEAM is also in the perfect position to coach, support, and/or have difficult feedback conversations with staff members who are not delivering their best efforts with the new program.  

By establishing a TEAM of highly influential, TRAINED educators, schools are able to PLAN for the dynamic new SEL program all while holding each other ACCOUNTABLE!

About the Author: Enterprise Middle School is located in the Richland School District in West Richland, WA that has 700 students in a growing district. They started using the CharacterStrong advisory and leadership curriculums this year and have become one of our flagship schools, showing what can happen to a building if they put their focus on relationships.

Before bringing the curriculum in, they assembled a rockstar team who did a lot of work to plan out implementation of the advisory and leadership curriculum. Their principal and guidance counselors wanted to train their staff on the curriculum so they hosted a CharacterStrong training at their school also bringing in teachers, administrators and counselors from surrounding schools. 

Follow them on Twitter @emswildcats1 and Instagram @emsleadership and @emscounseling to see the incredible things happening at their school.

The Duty of First...

Written By: Bryan Slater, Sumner High School

Everyone knows you must give respect in order to get respect. This raises a very important, and yet often overlooked question: who has the duty of giving it first?


As a servant leader, you have the duty of giving first patience, kindness, honesty, respect, selflessness, forgiveness, humility, and commitment. If you’re walking around your classroom or workplace expecting your subordinates to show you respect first, you’re simply not leading. So what does the “duty of first” look like?

The Duty of First Patience:

Leadership is all about influence and influence is all about relationships. Every action you take as a leader will do one of three things: increase your influence, maintain your influence, or reduce your influence in the relationship. Therefore, when you demonstrate patience in your relationships by choosing to listen first it can only follow that you will, at a minimum, maintain your influence in your relationships. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by choosing to listen first? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first patience in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to listen first before acting.

The Duty of First Kindness:

Kindness is likely the most powerful way of showing your students or employees that they matter to you. Imagine all of the possible love languages out there that tie directly to kindness: gift-giving, acts of service, words of affirmation, etc.. It’s a guarantee those you are leading feel loved whenever their respective leader speaks their language; therefore you have the duty as the leader to show them first kindness. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by choosing to be kind? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first kindness in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to show kindness to others while leading them.

The Duty of First Honesty:

If you want those you lead to be honest with you, then you must show them honesty first. This essential in leadership is very challenging but also one of the most rewarding. When leaders demonstrate honesty, they are likely also demonstrating humility at the same time. If those you are leading see you are willing to own your own mistakes and take responsibility when you fail, then they are going to be a lot more willing to be vulnerable themselves and own their mistakes. It’s very important as a leader that you show forgiveness when those around you show honesty. Think about it; how many times has someone lost long term influence in your life by choosing to be honest? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first honesty in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to be honest over being dishonest with others while leading them.

The Duty of First Respect:

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The Golden Rule. You are the first actor. Treat others as you wish to be treated, but you must be the first to do the “treating.” Respect is the most commonly misunderstood term in leadership. So many leaders believe they are “owed” respect based on the things they’ve done to earn the position of “leader” in their workplace. The issue here is that respect is not “owed”, it is “earned.” What’s more, once you’ve earned respect from those you lead, it is not permanent. Don’t get it confused: you are absolutely worthy of being treated with respect. But so are those you lead. As a matter of fact, they are worthy of your respect before they’ve even shown you any. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by choosing to show you respect? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first respect in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to give respect before receiving respect from others while leading them.

The Duty of First Selflessness:

What does it mean to be selfless? Seems pretty easy right: putting others before yourself. When leading others by serving others, you are putting their needs ahead of your own. The challenge here is putting their needs ahead of your own and still getting your own job done. It might seem counter-intuitive to sacrifice your own performance so that your employees can do their job but what you’ll find is by choosing selflessness over selfishness, the amount of time those you are leading will spend helping you in return will pick up the slack. AND, by serving you in return, those you are leading will increase their influence in your life making the workplace a much more respectful place to be. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by choosing to be selfless? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first selflessness in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to be selfless over being selfish while leading them.

The Duty of First Forgiveness:

Honestly, this could also be the duty of first apology. But nonetheless, there will be times when you fail as a leader. There will also be times when those you are leading will fail. When they do, it’s critical that you be the first to forgive them for whatever they failed at. Approaching those you are leading with grace will create a workplace where people don’t want to disappoint, as opposed to a workplace where people don’t want to get in trouble. The difference there might sound pretty miniscule, but harken back to the days when someone you looked up to told you they were disappointed in you. Remember that feeling? It was far worse than the feeling you got when you messed up but didn’t really care about disappointing the person. Disappointment can only be felt by those who care about doing the disappointing; in other words, you can only disappoint someone who you have earned influence in the life of. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by choosing to forgive you? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first forgiveness in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to forgive over harboring a grudge while leading them.

The Duty of First Humility:

As mentioned above, it’s critical as a servant leader to be the first to own your own mistakes. There is going to be failure and if those you lead know that you are not perfect, they will likely treat you with kindness, patience, and forgiveness when you fail. But that can only happen if you are humble enough to admit your shortcomings. Beyond admitting failure, it’s important that you understand that you are entitled to feel proud of the accomplishments you have earned as a leader in the workplace. Celebrating those accomplishments while acknowledging you could not have accomplished those things without those who choose to support you is selfish and arrogant. People don’t follow people they don’t like and often times the reason they don’t like someone is because of their arrogance. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by showing humility? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first humility in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to be humble while leading them.

The Duty of First Commitment:


Why would anyone follow someone who was not committed to the task they are being told to accomplish by the person leading them? They wouldn’t. Therefore, it must follow that the leader must be the first to show commitment to the cause they are asking those they lead, to accomplish. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by showing commitment to the things you deem important? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first commitment in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to be committed to the tasks you empower them to take on.

These are your eight duties as a servant leader in your workplace and beyond. If you choose to believe in and act on these eight duties to the best of your ability, you will find those you are leading will begin to believe that they have the duty of returning patience, kindness, honesty, respect, selflessness, forgiveness, humility, and commitment and once that happens, buckle up because you’re about to have an entire workplace filled with servant leaders! Think about the potential...

About the Author: Bryan Slater is an experienced classroom teacher who has spent the last 15 years teaching high school Social Studies in Tacoma, WA, Lagos, Nigeria, and Sumner, WA. He currently teaches IB 20th Century Topics and Theory of Knowledge to 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders at Sumner High School. Bryan's passion centers on helping teachers and students understand the importance relationships play in developing a culture of learning and trust in the classroom. He believes the Eight Essentials are the key to those relationships and works hard to challenge his fellow colleagues and students to think about how they are creating their "Character Brand" as teachers and learners through the 1,000's of choices they make each day.


Honoring Those Who Sacrifice for Us

“To lead is to serve.”

Written By: Karl Karkainen, Enumclaw Middle School

In our classrooms, every lesson is important. The same is true with school events and activities. They are all important - otherwise we wouldn’t be doing them. Holding the door open on Friday mornings so that all students know that someone recognized they are there is important, just as student-led monthly advisory sessions on how to build a positive school community is important. However, there is one event that I distinguish in our student leadership program as one that must be treated with the highest level of respect: Veterans’ Day.

Veterans’ Day is a two-part event at Enumclaw Middle School. One day is our traditional Veterans’ Day assembly featuring student speakers, vocalists, performances by our band and opportunities for students to acknowledge veterans they have known in their families. It is a special time to reflect on what we have been given and the sacrifices that were made for it. It brings the school together knowing that so many know or have known a veteran who has served. It is a time for students to think about “sacrifice” - just about every student speaker uses that word at some point.

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Two years ago, we determined that we would love veterans to hear our performance. Realistically, we came to understand that it is challenging for many senior veterans to attend. We decided to bring our presentation to High Point Retirement Village in Enumclaw for an afternoon performance. In attendance were fourteen veterans amongst the crowd - including several in their 90s who were remembering their service as far back as World War II. Several residents were related to the visiting students.

Students had the opportunity to demonstrate the Character Strong practical skills learned in our leadership class to help make this visit successful. We had practiced what a handshake looks like - after all, first impressions matter. We had practiced what it looks like to have a conversation by looking others in the eye and spending more time on listening to others than bragging about ourselves. We had practiced how to hold a microphone and how to keep the appropriate tone in a speech. And we had learned through Character Dares the importance of writing a personal note, inspiring students to write a letter to each veteran at High Point Village.

A gentleman named Frank was in attendance when we presented at the retirement center. Frank had a big personality - he loved to laugh. But he was also sincere. One of my favorite images from that day is of Frank wiping away a tear during a speech. Afterwards, a surprised student mentioned, “The man in the front row - he was crying during my speech.”

One of my favorite moments that brings a tear to my eye every year is creating the picture slideshow featuring veterans who are related to our students. At our assembly, when a student’s relative is shown on the screen with the background music playing, I can only imagine the sense of pride felt by students as they think about the service and sacrifice of their loved one.

We also include the veterans at High Point Village in our picture slideshow.Two years ago, we had fourteen residents in the slideshow. However, it came as a surprise to me the next year when we had just ten - I was informed that four of the residents had passed away the previous year. For these four veterans, including Frank, our presentation was the last Veterans’ Day show they probably ever saw. It is our sincere hope that these senior citizens felt appreciation, respect and love - and a feeling that their world was left in good hands to these students who had so eloquently talked about the importance of service and had taken the time to individually greet them by name. This year, there will be eight veterans who will be honored. In addition, we will be recognizing widows, parents and grandparents of those who are actively serving or who have served in the past.

Every year we have visited High Point Village, a woman named Mary has been in attendance. Mary is a veteran who has worn a red hat every time I have seen her. Whenever we visit the retirement center, Mary usually asks us, shakily, “Why are you here? Why would you want to come and see me?” And I love being able to teach students how to respond to her when she asks us that question this year:  

“Ms. Mary, we are here to see you. Thank you for your service.”

About the Author: Karl Karkainen is a leadership teacher at Enumclaw Middle School in Enumclaw, WA. Karl is constantly challenging his students to be CharacterStrong by serving others in their school, home and community. Karl's students frequently publish videos showcasing how they are choosing to love others in their building, interviewing students on SEL topics and much more. Subscribe to their YouTube channel here and follow them on Twitter @emswolfie to see some of the amazing activities they are doing to serve others! 

A Relationship Tool for Any Classroom

Clock Partners

By: John Norlin


Clock Partners is a simple and effective tool that any classroom teacher can use to immediately create four different partner pairings as well as a vehicle to promote interactions between students that you can teach relational skills to support the development of the whole child.

Time Needed: 5 minutes


  • Give each student a copy of a clock partner sheet.
  • Tell students that when you say “Go”, they are to move about the room and find one 12 o’clock partner, one 3 o’clock partner, one 6 o’clock partner, and one 9 o’clock partner.
  • When a student finds a partner with an open time slot, they should write that person’s name down for the identified time slot and have their new partner write their name down for the same time slot.
  • At the end of the time given to find partners, help students by asking if anyone needs a 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, or 9 o’clock partner. Help students find partners and or have a single student who is left over become your partner if needed.
  • Ask students to keep the clock partner sheet near the front of their binder or notebook for quick reference throughout the semester.
  • During any class lesson you can say, “Find your 6 o’clock partner or 9 o’clock partner” to immediately have students move and interact.

By creating a tool that you can quickly and easily have students interact with four different students you can accomplish multiple positive outcomes:

  1. Having students stand up and move, especially after lunch, increases blood flow by 11% immediately and helps keep their attention.

  2. Before having students discuss an academic question connected to your lesson, first ask students to greet each other with a proper handshake, that you have previously taught, and then ask students to do one of the following relationship building activities. This allows them to build relationships with students in their class that they may never formed before.

Relationship Building Tasks:

Ask students a “Get to Know” question to answer together before giving them the academic question to discuss. Some example questions are:

  • What is a special talent that you have or have been told that you have?
  • What is a special talent that you wish you had and why?
  • What is a highlight for you this past year?
  • What object that you have in your life is most important to you and why?
  • What relationship is most important to you in your life and why?
  • What is the best news that you could receive right now and why?
  • If you could visit any part of the world that you have not been yet, where would you choose to go and why?
  • Who is someone that you have always wanted to meet and what is one question you would ask them?
  • What are you most passionate about in life and why?
  • Ask students to share one thing that they are grateful for today.
  • Have students challenge each other to a game of best two out of three rock paper scissors and whoever loses asks a question to get to know the person that beat them.
  • Give students a mind puzzle or brain teaser that you have previously prepared and challenge them to figure out together.
  • Ask students to come up with a creative solution together to a question like, “If you could put two animals together to create a new animal, what two animals would you choose and what would the new animals name be?”

By intentionally finding ways for students to regularly interact relationally and practice even the most simple of relational skills that are so critical for them to learn, we can infuse Social Emotional Learning and Character Development into the very fabric of our school. When students get to know each other, it is harder to demonstrate negative behaviors like bullying, intimidation, and harassment. When students know each other, they are more likely to help each other when someone is in need. When students know each other, they are more likely to ask for help from their peers. When students interact with each other in a positive way, you continue to promote and create a positive school climate and culture where students and staff want to come to school and this positively impacts larger school goals around attendance, academics, and behavior.

Wildcat Nation’s 3 Keys to Building a Climate of Kindness

Written by: Enterprise Middle School Staff


COMMUNITY directly correlates with Climate! Communities are a group of people who share an interest, action or place.  In a school community, we have the unique opportunity to share all three.

By rebranding ourselves as “Wildcat Nation” we’ve been able to focus on a shared belief and action that everyone at EMS wants to have a safe, kind school.  And this isn’t exactly a leap of faith!  Isn’t a safe, kind world what we all strive for?  At EMS, the phrase “Wildcat Nation” conjures up an image of the ideal school we’re all shooting for!  



Schools that build a climate of kindness are INTENTIONAL with their effort, decisions, and actions.  At EMS, we plan and implement certain over-the-top projects which reinforce our Wildcat Nation mentality.  For instance, we’ve taken “The Golden Broom” and magnified it!  The golden broom is a way of demonstrating Service to those who Serve Us.  Essentially, we overwhelm someone with love! But at EMS, we make it a public demonstration.  Students who witness intentional acts of kindness are both moved emotionally and toward future acts of kindness.  Pay it forward, right! Also, by teasing upcoming Golden Broom surprises and/or other special projects over social media we build intentional anticipation of future positivity for students.  Students get excited over who, what, when the next kindness celebration will happen.  You can bet that when the Golden Broom or some other surprise pops up at EMS, students have their phones ready to snap pictures/videos to capture this magical moment.  Plus, they want to be involved with the next crazy over-the-top act of kindness that’s in the works….

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A Climate of Kindness IS NOT created on an Anti-Bullying day or a Friday Advisory lesson.  Why do mix-it-up days or random acts of kindness weeks fall flat or fail to sustain over time? Simple. If it’s not part of everything you do, then it’s seen as being contrived or phony!  Kindness is created by focusing SCHOOL-WIDE EVERY DAY on our meaningful theme: “What will You Do for Others Today?” This question needs to be asked of adults and students on a daily basis.  At EMS, this school-wide question shows up in staff meetings, on posters/banners, in science lessons, over e-mail, announcements , and on social media.  We have “Thank-You” boards, “Character Strong Sightings”, and a google classroom designed to highlight awesome moments at EMS!  We demonstrate our theme by welcoming and high-fiving students/parents each morning at both school entrances.  Staff wear CharacterStrong or Make Kindness Normal t-shirts every week and nominate students each month who have demonstrated one of the CharacterStrong words of the month.  And guess what those students receive? A cool certificate, peer recognition, and a kindness t-shirt which provides continued advertisement of our School-Wide Intentional Wildcat Nation Community focusing on: KINDNESS!

About the Author: Enterprise Middle School is located in the Richland School District in West Richland, WA that has 700 students in a growing district. They started using the CharacterStrong advisory and leadership curriculums this year and have become one of our flagship schools, showing what can happen to a building if they put their focus on relationships.

Before bringing the curriculum in, they assembled a rockstar team who did a lot of work to plan out implementation of the advisory and leadership curriculum. Their principal and guidance counselors wanted to train their staff on the curriculum so they hosted a CharacterStrong training at their school also bringing in teachers, administrators and counselors from surrounding schools. 

Follow them on Twitter @emswildcats1 and Instagram @emsleadership and @emscounseling to see the incredible things happening at their school.


3 Ways to Build Relationships Into Everyday Practices

We are always fighting against time. There is so much to teach young minds and so little time to fit it all in! Fortunately, weaving relationship-building into the fabric of your daily teaching practice doesn’t have to take hours of team-building activities or trust falls. Here are a few of our favorite ways that educators all across North America are weaving relationships into what they are already doing…

  1. Taking Role: A friend of ours in Texas is on a roll with her simple relationship-building technique. Before she calls out names, once or twice a week she will share a question that would have a one-word answer. As each name is called, she learns something short and simple about each of her students - a much more valuable use of time than “present” or “here” times 30! Some questions might be…

    1. What is one word to describe your weekend?

    2. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life…?

    3. Favorite movie?

    4. The name of your first pet?

    5. The TV show or book you are reading right now?

  2. Entry Task Imagery: A teacher in Washington does a Google Survey at the beginning of the year to gather some humanizing information about his students. Then, after confirming it is okay to share, he incorporates some of this information into his powerpoint slides that has the daily “Do Now.” Each day, in the upper right hand corner, he features one of the students in the class with a piece of information to deepen the classes understanding of who they show up to learn alongside each day. For example, for a whole month you might see a picture of every student’s pets and their pet names. The next month, it might be a picture of a student’s favorite place to relax.

  3. “What Have You Done For Others Today?”: One of our favorite math teachers in Connell, WA has an entire wall dedicated to the question that doesn’t get asked enough: “What Have You Done For Others Today?” He says that if his class ever has a few extra minutes at the end, he points to the wall and asks the room the question. In his own words, “I witness them thinking through their day trying find a point in time where they have helped others…Sometimes it turns into a classroom full of laughter, other times it turns into a more serious conversation. I never imagined such a simple quote could change the dynamics of my classroom in such a positive way.”

We don’t need a lot of time to build better communities - we just need to change the way we are using the time we already have. Share with us in the comments below your favorite way to incorporate meaningful relationships and conversations into your daily teaching practice!

If Surgeons Have to be Reminded to Wash Their Hands…

I was recently at a conference on Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) and was able to hear long-time Educational Consultant Randy Sprick present. Randy Sprick is an educational consultant and trainer in Eugene, Oregon who was the primary author of Safe and Civil Schools. I was inspired by Randy’s wealth of knowledge and ability to give practical and helpful tips for teachers and administrators to implement immediately in their classroom and schools.


One analogy that Randy provided really stuck with me. He mentioned how hospitals each year have to find new and creative ways to remind surgeons to wash their hands. The studies show that if hospitals do not regularly remind doctors to wash their hands, only approximately 50% would do so. We also know that if surgeons don’t wash their hands, the chance for infection and death increase dramatically for that patient. If surgeons have to be reminded to wash their hands, we definitely need to remind ourselves of the importance to intentionally build our character. We need to be reminded more than we need to be taught and so do our students.

If surgeons have to be reminded to wash their hands, we definitely need to remind ourselves of the importance to intentionally build our character. We need to be reminded more than we need to be taught and so do our students.

We know from the research of psychologist, Angela Duckworth, that it is actually character traits like grit and self-control that are higher indicators of success than a student’s grade point average, IQ, or SAT score. We need to teach both academics and character to our students. We need to find ways to remind them daily about what good character looks like. At CharacterStrong it is a core belief that students want to do good, they just don’t always know what good looks like.


To do this we need to provide training, ideas, and most importantly a solid example of what strong character looks like. We need to present our students with a consistent and predictable environment that they can count on. We need to grant teachers the training needed to be successful in building positive relationships and managing a classroom in a proactive way, since so much of our time is spent reacting. Many schools measure the climate and culture of a building using questions about a student's feeling of whether there is at least one caring adult in the school that believes in them. What is your school doing to intentionally teach the whole child? What are you doing?

In order to develop normally, a child requires activity with one or more adults who have an irrational emotional relationship with the child. Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one, first, last, and always. -Urie Bronfenbrenner Co-founder of Head Start

To learn more about how to intentionally teach, reinforce and model strong character traits visit to learn more about our CharacterStrong Educator Trainings.